It took 100 million years for oxygen levels in the oceans and atmosphere to increase to the level that allowed the explosion of animal life on Earth about 600 million years ago, according to a UCL-led study funded by the Natural Environment Research Council.
Before now it was not known how quickly Earth's oceans and atmosphere became oxygenated and if animal life expanded before or after oxygen levels rose. The new study, published today in Nature Communications, shows the increase began significantly earlier than previously thought and occurred in fits and starts spread over a vast period. It is therefore likely that early animal evolution was kick-started by increased amounts of oxygen, rather than a change in animal behaviour leading to oxygenation.
Lead researcher, Dr Philip Pogge von Strandmann (UCL Earth Sciences), said: "We want to find out how the evolution of life links to the evolution of our climate. The question on how strongly life has actively modified Earth's climate, and why the Earth has been habitable for so long is extremely important for understanding both the climate system, and why life is on Earth in the first place."
Researchers from UCL, Birkbeck, Bristol University, University of Washington, University of Leeds, Utah State University and University of Southern Denmark tracked what was happening with oxygen levels globally 770 - 520 million years ago (Ma) using new tracers in rocks across the US, Canada and China.